Purple Broccoli reign of princely plant

After a long winter feasting on root and stored vegetables, it is safe to say that the onset of Purple Sprouting Broccoli (PSB) season marks a welcome addition to every pot and plate.

This tall and striking Brassica is a pertinent player in the infamous ‘Hungry Gap’, coming into it’s own from mid-late February and cropping through March into April.

With its vivid purple buds and dark green leaves, PSB, not only looks good but tastes great and is packed full of nutrients. It has a decidedly nutty, sweet and crunchy texture, but like it’s cruciferous cousins, PSB will become sulphurous and soggy if over-cooked.

PSB is true broccoli and is familiar to most home growers and farmers market supporters. It is rarely spotted on supermarket shelves as preference is given to the convenient larger-headed calabrese sold under the name of broccoli.

Henceforth, people associate broccoli with large headed green florets which technically are known as calabrese.

A mere misnomer is not a problem until one is buying seeds and many novice gardeners have sown PSB, expecting to see a big floret in the summer and alas when none is visible by autumn, they lose hope and hoist out plants.

The only problem I can conceive with PSB is that it takes nearly a year to mature. The seeds are sown towards the end of April and the longish wait till the following spring may be a deterrent. Also, careful consideration of location is needed when planting as a garden bed will be tied up with PSB for almost a year.

Plants grow to over 3ft so will need staking and earthing up to provide support. A fine netting will deter the cabbage white butterfly and protection from pigeons is vital later in the year, as they are also delighted to see an array of luscious leafy greens and purple florets after a sparse winter.

These factors combined, indicate that PSB may not be the best crop for gardeners who are short on space and looking for quick results.

The only other problem with PSB, is that you never seem to have enough. Since the cropping season is short (approx four weeks), sowing successionally, harvesting regularly and growing early and late varieties helps extend the season.

PSB IN YOUR KITCHEN

PSB is especially good when young and tender, so the best tip I can give is to use it up. Look for darkly coloured specimens with crisp stalks which snap cleanly when broken and keep picking the shoots regularly before the yellow flower buds open.

Regular picking will encourage further cropping, but be warned, do not strip a plant bare in one go. PSB is picked and served ‘whole’, i.e. using leaves, stems and florets.

Since the cropping season is fairly brief and it doesn’t store that well, the best approach is to eat lots of PSB when the season strikes. Steamed, boiled, stirfried, added to pastas, tarts, quiches, risottos or used as a salad base with a lively dressing, this truly is a versatile vegetable.

It is yummy eaten raw as a snack — just wash it and add to salad or serve with a dip asparagus-style using your fingers and discarding any tough ends. It is particularly good with hummus or a slightly indulgent but magically more-ish melted stilton cheese dip.

If you really have a lot to use up, a soup will freeze better than the vegetable on its own, which tends to go mushy. PSB partners perfectly with almost any fish or meat dish and it can also take centre stage as a starter or main course. It’s actually so tasty, you don’t need to do much with it.

Cook PSB as you would a whole head of broccoli/calabrese, but for slightly less time. Feel free to play around and have fun with this versatile and nutritious spring treat.

As the PSB season is so short, make sure to make the most of it and eat as much as possible while you still can.


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